To help achieve packaging commitments and guide companies as they transition to a more circular plastics supply chain, the Reduce, Recover, Recycle (3R) Initiative, EA, South Pole and Quantis announced the development of a set of Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship.
The Guidelines introduce three goals for companies to strive for, as well as strategies to achieve those goals: net zero plastic leakage, 100% recycled at end-of-life, and net circular plastic. The term “net” within each goal is meant to recognize that “not all activities used to mitigate plastic footprint and leakage are under the company’s direct control or influence.”
The Guidelines continue by outlining how companies can standardize accounting and reporting of plastic footprints, footprint mitigation, and “commitments to reducing plastic waste and achieving circularity.” 3R breaks down the corporate plastic value chain into “upstream,” plastic waste before a material reaches a manufacturer’s possession; “operational,” plastic use and waste through the company’s operations; and “downstream,” the plastic attached to the final product when the company passes it down the supply chain.
Companies striving to meet the primary plastic stewardship goals commit to managing plastic waste and usage within their own operations and accounting for macroplastic leakage in downstream operations. “Leakage” as defined by 3R includes any plastic that ultimately becomes pollution as the leaked plastic does not end in the waste stream, where it can perhaps be reused or recycled, but rather in the environment. Additional, stricter metrics a company can opt-in to include accounting for total plastic usage both up and down stream, measuring and mitigating macro- and microplastic leakage (FPF reported), and/or accounting for the impact of pollutants on the environment (FPF here and here).
To create a truly circular and net-zero leakage plastic cycle, the Guidelines outline a compensation system through plastic credits. “Plastic credits provide a way for companies to take responsibility for the impact of plastic in the environment for which they are held accountable.” For example, to fulfill the Net Zero Plastic Leakage goal means “that an equivalent to the total weight of plastic put into a market is permanently removed from the environment.”
Following the guidelines, each commitment is achievable through collection activities within the company’s own supply chain or via offsetting any plastic that cannot be accounted for through downstream organization’s plastic capturing activities.
Companies large and small have recently made commitments to increase the sustainability of their supply chains. The Food Packaging Forum has created a Brand and Retailer Initiatives Database to track chemical safety and sustainability commitments related to food contact materials and articles.
3R Initiative (February 2021). “Guidelines for Corporate Plastic Stewardship.” (pdf)